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Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Made in Italy: Mami Camilla's Cooking School

Written by Sherry Ott
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Mami Camilla’sI joke around about being out of shape, but after eight months of travel, minimal workouts, and food from all over the world, I can still fit into my same old clothes. Compared to the rest of the world, I’ve always felt fit and athletic – that is, until I came to Italy.

 

My month at cooking school in Italy produced a whole new level of body image anxiety. I have many names for it: spare tire, pasta pooch, rotoli, muffin top, fupa – that extra weight that I carry around my middle – it should have a little tag on it that says “Made in Italy.”

 

chef Biagio

Photo: Chef Biagio


When I signed up for cooking classes, all I knew was that I would be cooking three nights a week. When I arrived at the language school the instructors showed me how to find the cooking school (in the next town about a mile and a half away). I would need to go there to cook on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from
4:30 to 8:00 p.m., then I could stay and eat the dinners that we prepared. In addition, I could go to the school and eat an additional three times a week as part of my package. Food that I already paid for – yippee! I’m always excited about a good bargain, so I knew I would be spending a lot of time there. Although, I still didn’t know what to expect from the school.

 

When I arrived the first night at Mami Camilla’s, I was surprised to find out that it was more than a cooking school, but a family compound of sorts. It not only included the cooking school (which was held in the large kitchen of their house), but it was also a bed and breakfast and hostel. A big wall enclosed the whole compound, and inside the wall was this welcoming Italian home, a real home complete with big terraces, herb gardens, lemon trees, cherry trees, and two lovable dogs, Spike and Lola. Chef Biagio Longo and his son, Augustino, run the school. Augustino, always joking around and lighthearted, served as translator and Sous Chef and as soon as I walked into the kitchen, I felt as if I’d entered a party with friends. The cooking classes were relaxed and fun – and they contained an extraordinary amount of eggs, cheese, butter, and fried food.

 

Mami Camilla’sMami Camilla’sMami Camilla’sPhotos: How to make pasta 101

 

The cooking school also operated as a restaurant every night. There was a sign-up sheet in front of the house. If anyone wanted to have dinner there, they simply wrote their name down and joined the crowd at 8 p.m. for a four-course meal for 15 euro – easily the best value in all of Sorrento. On average, they would have about 30 people every night to feed. Therefore, as a student of the school we were busy making large quantities of pasta every day!

 


 

The business was a family operation through and through. Biagio and Camilla had four grown kids, and each of them helped with the business. Augustino helped with the cooking school every day, Giuseppe was the accountant and worked with all of the reservations and finances of the place, and the two daughters came every night to serve the restaurant patrons. Then there was Palmyra, the woman who assisted at the school and was basically everyone’s shadow. Every time I put a dirty bowl or spoon down, she would have it picked up and washed quicker than I could blink. I honestly believed that she was the real brains behind that kitchen, she would shoot Augustino these discerning looks as if to say “you are putting too much salt in” or “the pasta is too thick” – but she never opened her mouth, she said everything in her face.


A typical class meant arriving at 4:30, having an espresso, eating some gelato made earlier in the day, then making the dough for the homemade pasta, and dusting off the pasta maker before creating every type of noodle imaginable. This was followed by a wine break, and then we typically moved on to peeling various vegetables, frying them, and preparing the pomodoro sauce. Finally, we’d work on the dough for the dessert or pastry for that night and make the base custard cream. In between all of this we would taste what we prepared as all good chefs do! After we wrapped up cooking, we’d join the other diners to enjoy the four-course meal we just prepared (and more liters of wine of course).

 

Every night as I sat down at one of the long tables for dinner I would meet new travelers that were staying at the bed and breakfast or hostel. Even for a social butterfly like myself it was overwhelming: the new people every day of all ages from different countries all with unique stories. I never tired of meeting new people, though. It was fascinating and stimulating, like going to a cocktail party every night.

 

i dolciPhoto: Augustino putting the finishing touches on i dolci


Since I was spending six nights a week at Mami Camillas, I talked to Giuseppe and rented an old, dilapidated, purple bike from him for the month. I figured that it would cut down on the time it would take to walk the mile and a half each way. The bike was about to fall apart, but it worked well enough to ride three miles a day on relatively flat roads – as long as I didn’t have to use the brakes too much! Since the bike was purple, I christened it my “purple pasta eater.” The ride home after several glasses of wine and a heavy meal was always interesting, a little Lindsey Lohan-esque. Even though the ride home often got my heart rate up and working, the workout was no match for the stick of butter and four eggs that I had just consumed.

 

naples fish marketChef Biagio was talking about the Napoli fish market one day in class, and I expressed an interest. He asked me if I wanted to see it, and of course I told him that I would love to see it! Markets are one of my favorite things to visit! The only downside was that it was open from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. every morning. So Biagio picked me up at 3 a.m. and off we went to Napoli in the middle of the night. Biagio is a big man, a really big man, and there would be no other person that I would want to go to the Napoli fish market with in the middle of the night more than him. Everyone talked about Napoli being a dangerous city, but the fish market in the middle of the night – well, that’s not in any guidebook.

 


 

We arrived at the market, downed an espresso, and entered. Unlike the Asian markets that I had visited in the past and much to my surprise, the market was clean and well-organized. It was held in what looked to be an old airplane hanger with a large rounded ceiling. It had pristine white walls, orderly rows of fish, palettes of iced fish, stainless steel scales, and tons and tons of men all yelling. I was the only woman in the whole airplane hanger. I walked around the market looking at all of the fish, asking Biagio what some of the fish were, but mainly I enjoyed watching the various men interact.

 

pastry Photo: Layers of pastry dough made with care


Most of all, I just loved the whole concept of Mami Camillas. I loved riding my Purple Pasta Eater to the house every day and greeting everyone at the house as if I had known them for years. I loved that fact that during our cooking classes various family friends would come waltzing through the kitchen to deliver produce, to make an espresso, or to hang out and talk. I loved when Spike and Lola would smell the meat cooking and attempt to come into the kitchen just to be banished to fuori (outside).dog I loved having a place to call home where everyone did know my name, a place to laugh and make new friends, and a place to learn how to make homemade ravioli.

 

I hated putting the five additional pounds on my body, but then again all good things come with a price, and mine was five pounds of rotoli (Italian for pasta belly). My new rotoli is made solely of homemade pasta, breadcrumbs, cheese, butter, cream, and pitchers of house wine all from Mami Camilla’s every single night. I thoroughly enjoyed every four course meal there, six nights a week, for four weeks—add that up and you will want to hold an intervention and check me into Jenny Craig.

 

I wish I could bottle the energy and hospitality that they produce there and sell it. It’s hard to find authentic experiences in Italy these days, but Mami Camilla’s delivered. The only thing it’s missing is a gym membership with the cooking class!

 

dolci

 

If you are planning a trip to Southern Italy, check out Mami Camilla’s cooking classes!
http://www.mamicamilla.com

©Sherry Ott

For more of her stories, check her website: www.ottsworld.com

 

Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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